Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Dark History of Fangamer

These days, Fangamer is a nice company in which its employees are all friends with each other, we help each other out, we all get health, dental, and vision insurance, and we make enough to live fairly comfortably. None of us are starving, in other words. We still have a ways to go before we reach what Reid calls "acceptable living wages," but since most of us live in Tucson where the cost of living is very low, most of us are doing pretty alright.

However, this was not always the case. Fangamer had its act together by the time I came to Tucson, but I've heard stories of a Time Before, when life was difficult and every month was a struggle.

Before I came to Fangamer I was working more or less full time at a Gamestop. I'm actually a little surprised at how well things worked out: I was getting paid fairly little, but it was enough for rent, bills, and food, which I mostly cooked for myself. It was certainly a welcome change from living with my parents, even though it cost way more. (No offense to my parents; I just needed to experience independence.)

The early days of Fangamer were not that good to its employees. At the beginning it was just Reid, and from what I understand he was also doing freelance work on the side to make ends meet. The mailroom was located in Reid's second bedroom, which he's pretty sure was against the terms of his lease.

When he got overwhelmed he often enlisted the help of Steve, who was working a full time job at Office Max at the time. When Steve eventually came on full time at Fangamer, I'm pretty sure it was with a large pay cut from what he was making at Office Max.

Meanwhile, the company's lead designer, Jon, was basically working pro bono for Fangamer while also working his primary job at a design firm in Atlanta.

After Fangamer finally got its first office (a tiny series of rooms attached to a radiator shop), our programmer Ryan was hired. Ryan then proceeded to actually live out of the office for a few months, going to Reid's house to bathe every once in a while.

During that time, Fangamer would often buy food for its employees. Their salaries weren't quite cutting it, so any assistance Fangamer could offer its employees in that way made all the difference.

Emotions ran high during this time, and in that tiny office people couldn't get away from each other. A lot of the interpersonal dynamics of the company were formed during this heated period, for better and for worse. As friendly and personable as most of Fangamer's crew may be, we do not always get along with each other or agree on the direction the company is headed, and the arguments in that regard were likely more intense early on, before the company's path was pretty much clear.

For the first few years, that's how it was at Fangamer: living paycheck to paycheck, working in close quarters, overwhelmed by the workload, and never sure if the company would survive the next year or what the company would look like if it did. Yet they managed it, somehow, and by the time they hired me the company held some semblance of the stability it maintains today.

I'm sure that story is par for the course as far as startup companies go. It has all of the elements of the classic Silicon Valley basement/garage origin story. I never thought I'd be in such close proximity to such a story, though. Starting a business always seemed like the sort of thing other people do--people far away from me, or people older than me. But no, here they are. My peers, my heroes, my friends.

1 comment:

  1. This was a great read, Charlie! Thanks for giving some insight into a company that I have grown to love so much. I always enjoy finding out the back story on how things came to be.
    The first way I found out about FG was back in 2009/10 when I was perusing my usual online forums and came across a post with the 2300AD Chrono Trigger shirt in blue. I was floored. I thought "This isn't like anything I've seen before!" I immediately went to the site and browsed all there was to offer. Tears came to my eyes when I realized I had come upon a store that caters to the Earthbound gamer as well!
    10 posters, 5 shirts, and a ton of this'-and-that's later... I still get fuzzy browsing the site, hoping for new swag.
    Fangamer has come to be an incredible company and I'm sure will flourish into something even greater as time goes on.

    - Jordan

    Can't wait for the Kickstarter this week!